Hoosiers — NCAA champs

Hoosiers — NCAA champs

By Bob Hammel, The Herald-Telephone

March 31, 1981

From the March 31, 1981 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

PHILADELPHIA – The City of Hoosierly Love crowned another Indiana basketball team the national collegiate champion Monday night.

Five years and a day after the 1976 champion by beating Michigan at The Sectrum, IU returned to the building and claimed the 1981 championship with a 63-50 victory over North Carolina.

Indiana – a four time winner now behind only UCLA (10) and Kentucky (5) – did it with the same kind of second-half magic that whipped Michigan, 86-68, in the 1976 final game. The Hoosiers appeared in trouble for a half Monday night, then seized control at the start o the second half and won easily.

It was, said Iu coach Bob Knight, remembering a 35-29 halftime hole in ’76, “a little deja vu.

“We did play well in the second half.”

The Hoosiers didn’t lead for even a second in the first half, which ended with Randy Wittman’s shot in the air from a deep corner.

It went to put Indiana ahead, 27-26, as the teams took a break.

North Carolinahad led early, 8-2, then 16-8. “It didn’t look good then,” Knight said. “We were on the verge of being blown out.”

Wittman hit four shots from long range and Landon Turner powered to three baskets inside to deliver the halftime lead.

“They were playing zone and mostly giving us the outside shot,” Wittman said. He had to ask for the last one. Isiah Thomas was scanning the court when Wittman thought he had lost track of time. “When it got down to :05, I yelled at him,” Wittman said. “Al Wood was way off me, looking for something to the inside.”

Wittman shouted, “Come on!” Thomas slipped him the ball and Wittman’s shot was barly out of his hand before the buzzer sounded.

“That was the most important play of the game,” Thomas said of Wittman’s shot. “It gave us momentum.”

Second and third on the “most important” list may have been a couple plays supplied by Thomas in stimulating the momentum early in the second half.

North Carolina controlled the tip at the start of the half and was working for the shot that could have put the Tar Heels on top again when Thomas snapped up a loose ball and drove to a lay-up.

“The ball was slippery,” Thomas said. “It went right through (Carolina guard Jimmy) Black’s hands. I was just in the right place at the right time.”

The Thomas basket made the score 29-26, and it was 31-28 when Thomas picked off a pass aimed at 6-9 freshman Sam Perkins in the Carolina middle. Wood, the Tar Heels’ senior star, cut Thomas off on a drive to the basket, but the Hoosier sophomore glided past him for another lay-up and a 33-28 margin.

“Thomas roke it open,” North Carolina coach Dean Smith said . “His two steals were the turning point.”

From the March 31, 1981 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

It was 35-30 when Thomas – 1-for-6 in an uncharcacteristically chilly first half – swished a shot from the baseline and followed by working free in the low post for a pass from James Thomas and a lay-up that opened a sudden 39-30 lead with 15:23 to play and forced Smith to call a time out.

The four basket blast-off started Thomas toward a 19-point last half and game scoring honorswith 23 points – part of the reason he closed out an all-America season by becoming the third Hoosier to win the NCAA’s outstanding player award at the Final Four.

Isiah’s fourth basket was the start of a string of four straight assists by the sophomore who became a national name as IU’s “other Thomas” in the tournament, James Thomas. He wound up with eight assists and a rarity for a reserve: a spot on the all-Final Four team, along with teammate Turner, Carolina’s Wood and Jeff Lamp of Virginia’s consolation-game winners.

“Maybe it was a bad thing to get (Ted) Kitchel in foul trouble,” Smith said wryly. Kitchel started but played only four minutes before drawing three fouls, and Thomas came on to play 29 minutes.

He fed Isiah Thomas for an inside basket and Wittman for a 15-foot jump shot that edged the Hoosier lead to 45-34 with 12:30 left.

The Hoosiers missed a couple chances to add to the lead, and after Wood hit two free throws with 9:37 left to cut the lead to 45-36, Knight went to work on the clock with a spread offense that was in no hurry to get a shot in the air. “That’s tough to play,” said Smith, who made the four-corner delay game into a late-game trademark.

North Carolina capitalized when IU missed its first scoring try after going to the delay, Wood’s rebound basket at 8:00 making it 45-38.

That’s the closest the Tar Heels got. IU ran off 30 seconds before James Thomas appeared to be caught in the Heels’ half-court trap. He escaped with a pass that got Wittman a lay-up to deflate Carolina hopes that had started to build.

Indiana took a 51-41 lead into the last three minutes and padded it when Isiah Thomas and Wittman made of one-and-one free-throw chances.

North Carolina bit into the 55-41 lead by pressuring the Hoosiers into three turnovers and scoring six straight points. Indiana ran the margin back up by hitting 8 of 10 free throws in the last minute and 22 seconds.

Knight tried to get his starters out – for a celebratory exit and an introduction into the box score for some reserves – but the clock never stopped in the last 41 seconds.

From the March 31, 1981 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

The incredible turn-around season wound down with Thomas holding the ball in the back-court. IU’s section of the crowd of 18,276 counted down “4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1” and Thomas let the season end with the ball high in the air, tossed there with the same show of jubilation that his predecessor as the back-court boss of an NCAA champion at IU, Quinn Buckner, did with a dance in the gold-medal game at the 1976 Olympics – when the U.S. coach was Dean Smith.

Smith had won twice from Knight and IU in a two-year series set up for national TV. The second of the games was last December in Chapel Hill, Carolina winning 65-56.

Smith’s 20th season as Tar Heel coach ended with his third championship-game loss. He hasn’t won one yet.

“I’m thrilled to be No. 2,” Smith said. “But I’d rather be No. 1. I am thrilled as a coach for this year’s team.”

The Tar Heels finished 29-8, regional winners for the sixth time under Smith.

Indiana closed out 26-9, two more defeats than any previous NCAA champion ever had. It assyred a national championship banner that will go alongside ones from 1940, 1953, and 1976 in Assembly Hall’s south end. The late Branch McCracken’s teams won the first two, both coming over Kansasin final games played in Kansas City – Smith a reserve on the Kansas bench when IU won the ’53 title.

Besides the 23 points by Isiah Thomas, Wittman had 16 points and Turner 12. Senior Ray Tolbert scored only 5 points but led IU to a 33-29 rebounding edge by sweeping off 11, high for both teams.

Wood, who set an NCAA semifinal record with 39 points when North Carolina qualified for the championship try by heating Virginia Saturday, scored 18 against first Turner, then James Thomas.

Sam Perkins scored 11, but both he and James Worthy, who teamed with Wood to form one of the outstanding front-court combinations basketball this year, were virtually shut off the last half. perkins and Worthy combined for only four points in the half, two of those surrendered by IU at the end to avoid a foul. Tolbert and Turner were the match-ups for Worthy and Perkins, till Turner fouled out with 5:33 left. Senior Steve Risley finished the game.

Turner, f 35 5-8 2-2 6 1 0 1 5 12
Kitchel, f 4 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Tolbert, c 40 1-4 3-6 11 0 1 2 0 5
I. Thomas, g 40 8-17 7-8 2 5 0 4 5 23
Wittman, g 40 7-13 2-2 4 0 0 0 2 16
J. Thomas 29 1-4 0-0 4 8 0 1 2 2
Risley 12 1-1 3-4 4 0 0 0 1 5
Team 2
Totals 23-48 17-22 33 14 1 8 17 63
Wood, f 38 6-13 6-9 6 2 0 0 4 18
Worthy, f 30 3-11 1-2 6 2 0 1 5 7
Perkins, c 39 5-8 1-2 8 1 1 2 3 11
Black, g 36 3-4 0-0 2 6 1 4 5 6
Pepper, g 22 2-5 2-2 1 0 0 2 1 6
Doherty 23 1-2 0-1 4 0 0 0 4 2
Braddock 5 0-2 0-0 0 1 0 0 1 0
Kenny 1 0-1 0-0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Budko 2 0-1 0-0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Team 2
Totals 20-47 10-16 29 12 2 9 23 50
Indiana 27 36 – 64
North Carolina 26 24 – 50
Errors – Indiana 14, North Carolina 19.
Technical Foul – Turner (grabbing rim).
FG Pct. FT Pct.
Indiana 23-48 0.479 17-22 0.773
North Carolina 20-47 0.426 10-16 0.625
Officials – Booker Turner (Pac-10), Ken Lauderdale (SEC), Lou Moser (ACC).
Attendance – 18,276 (sellout).